Unknown from India dazzles at Open

On a day when some of the world’s best golfers
found plenty to complain about at Muirfield,
an Indian-born golfer whose name I promise you’ve never heard
played the round of his life and, for a time, found himself atop
the
Open
Championship leaderboard
on Thursday.

Shiv Kapur birdied six of his first seven holes to put himself
alone in first place — making him the first player with six
par breakers in first seven holes of a round at the Open since Paul
Azinger at St. Andrews in 2000,
according to Elias Sports Bureau — and
after two pars to close, Kapur made the turn at 6-under.

The back nine wasn’t as kind to Kapur, who double-bogeyed
No. 10 to fall out of the lead.

Then an errant tee shot on 14 led to a bogey, dropping him
another stroke. But Kapur,
who is No. 210 in the latest World Golf
Ranking, kept his composure and finished the round in a tie for
fourth at 3-under, one shot ahead of world No. 1 Tiger Woods and
two strokes off leader Zach Johnson’s pace.

Now, I don’t think many people were ever expecting Kapur
to hold on to the lead after one round, much less the tournament
— during its coverage, ESPN reported that Kapur was getting
500-to-1 odds at a local betting club, which is stunning that he
had odds on him at all. And that won’t change because the
31-year-old played a surprisingly efficient 18 on Thursday.

But regardless of his long-term chances or the fact that he
slipped some on the back nine, what Kapur did in the first round
was pretty remarkable.

Kapur
graduated from Purdue and turned pro in 2004,
and his crowning achievement in the nearly decade since is
a win on the Asian Tour in 2005. He has
played in 201 European Tour events since 2005,
and finished in the money in 104 of them, with two second-place
finishes (one in 2007, one in 2010) and seven other Top 10s.

In February of this year, Kapur
won the 2013 Gujarat Kensville Challenge on
the Challenge Tour, the second-tier tour in Europe. So
there’s that.

As for this year’s Open, Kapur
made the field through local qualifying in
Scotland, and 2013 marks Kapur’s second career entry in the
tournament. He also played in 2006 and
missed the cut after shooting 1-over for the
first two days. Kapur’s six birdies in the first seven holes
Thursday was one more than he had in both 2006 rounds combined.

Kapur was born in New Delhi, and historically, India hasn’t been
a hotbed for PGA Tour talent. Only one Indian-born player has won
on tour (
Arjun Atwal at the Wyndham Championship in
2010 as a Monday qualifier), and an Indian-born player hadn’t
even qualified for the British Open until 1997, when Gaurav Ghei
played (and missed the cut) at Royal Troon.

Overall, seven Indian-born players have competed in major
championships, and the first to make a cut was Jyoti Randhawa, who
finished tied for 27th at the Open Championship at Royal Troon in
2004.

Last year’s Open at Royal Lytham marked the first time two
golfers from India qualified for the weekend at the same major,
when Jeev Milkha Singh and Anirban Lahiri both made the cut. In
making that cut, Singh became the first Indian-born player to have
made a cut in each of golf’s four majors, including a tie for
ninth at the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

But Kapur could make legitimate history, surpassing Singh as the
most successful Indian golfer on the PGA tour, should he continue
to maintain his pace — however unlikely it may be.

Prior to playing his opening round with Gregory Bourdy and Scott
Jamieson in the third-to-last group of the day, Kapur
played practice rounds with Nick Faldo.

“No one knows Muirfield better than Nick,” Kapur said, adding
that his dream is
to play with Woods in the final group on
Sunday.

It seems Kapur might have a point about Faldo, and if he keeps
playing like he has — a mighty task, indeed — his dream
may become a distinct possibility.